Pope Francis walks with World Youth Day pilgrims as he arrives for a July 30 prayer vigil at the Field of Mercy in Krakow, Poland. Nigerian pilgrims hope their experience at World Youth Day 2016 will help affect change with challenges back home. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Nigerians hope WYD experiences will help country overcome its challenges

By  Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service
  • July 31, 2016

KRAKOW Poland – Cosmos Nandi-Esom said he is a politician back home in Nigeria.

He also said he wants to take his experiences of being a pilgrim at World Youth Day to his homeland to help guide it out of times of corruption and violence and ease tribal conflicts.

"I want God to intervene in our politics," he told Catholic News Service July 30 as he awaited the arrival of Pope Francis at the Field of Mercy outside Krakow.

Nandi-Esom, 32, is running for chairman of his local government in Cross River state in southern Nigeria. Even though elections are less than two months off, he said he wanted to come to Poland to pray with Pope Francis and take the pontiff's message home.

"It's a rare privilege to see the Pope," he said, noting it was the first time he would see a Pope up close. His vantage point was hundreds of feet from the main stage, but with a clear line of site to watch the festivities.

"We have so many things to pray for. We have the youth uprising in the South and then we have the terrorists in the Northeast. Also for those who are in government. We know the problems and we come here to pray with the Holy Father for peace," he told Catholic News Service.

"We come that we may be renewed, with the prayers of the Holy Father that God may do something for Nigeria," added Nandi-Esom, who wore a bright red shirt with "Polska" (Poland) emblazoned on the back.

Others in the group of 180 from across the country expressed concern for the violence Nigeria faces. A long insurgency led by Boko Haram has disrupted daily life in northern states, with bombings at churches and public markets. Attempts to root out government corruption by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, in office for 14 months, has had minimal success.

Some in the group supported Buhari, a Muslim, while others said he had worsened the country's situation.

Despite the political challenges facing the West African nation with massive oil reserves, the Nigerian pilgrims expressed hope that practicing mercy toward others – the theme of World Youth Day – would eventually bring peace and reconciliation among the people.

"World Youth Day is a platform where you meet together, share the word, have a great encounter and make new friends. It's a very beautiful thing," said Francis Aokoye, 26, an engineer from Anambra state.

"We are the instruments of faith. I learned about mercy and how to try to put myself in others' situation and work for peace," he said.

Theresa Nchikwo, 32, also of Anambra state and the Onitsha Archdiocese, said the country's future depends on how young people hear the Word of God and react to it. She said she hopes the Nigerian contingent will take Pope Francis' inspiring words home to their parishes and communities and begin to build a country rooted in peace and justice.

"This gathering is a medium to bring them closer to God," she told CNS as she relaxed on a blanket in bright sunshine after a three-and-a-half hour walk from the city.

"The number of people together who attended, we can tell a lot of young people what we learned, and I think then it will help reduce some of the negative things (Nigeria is experiencing)," Nchikwo added.

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  • Jean's Photo Diary

    July 26, 2016: The shrine of the Black Madonna was opened to World Youth Day pilgrims so that they could venerate the miraculous image up close. (Photo by Jean Ko Din)

    Follow our reporter Jean Ko Din as she photographs her journey to Krakow, Poland for the 2016 World Youth Day.